Thursday, January 05, 2006


I started out my newspaper career by filling in as secretary-bookkeeper for a vacationing employee at the Lake Orion Review, owned at the time by a couple named Ellen and Marty Carlson. As a bookkeeper, I am so inept that it is only through divine intervention that my checkbook ever balances, but it was decided that I could not do too much damage in a two week period, so I went to work.

While there, I kept writing little pieces of nonsense and leaving them on Marty's desk. He liked them and asked me to stay on as a reporter. Boy, was I a greenhorn. I walked around the small town with my notebook in hand and tried to look as much like Lois Lane as possible. But I found the small town to be run by a small clique of people and I wasn't one of them. I loved Marty and Ellen and, when they sold the paper, I drifted on to work as a "stringer" for a large city paper.

At the same time, I was busy with my children at home, most of whom had reached teenage at the same time. Those were hectic, though good years and by working as a stringer, I was able to stay home with the kids most of the time. Not that they were ever home, being teenagers, but at least I was there if they needed me.

Then I answered an Ad for a reporter for a small paper in the city, the Times. It had been created by a man named C. Don Davidson. I went for an interview with him, and immediately started writing for his newspaper.

C. Don was a big, burly, volatile and extremely intelligent man, close to genius, I believe. He was like a walking human volcano, peaceful for the majority of time, but apt to explode and spill out anger at any moment. Above all, he loved the city where he had grown up, turned from a "C" student to a basketball star, then later became a Marine officer. His bad grades almost kept him out of architectural college, but he managed to talk his way into it and became an architect. After that, he became a professor at a Jesuit college in Detroit.

As a class project, he and his students designed a football arena for the Detroit Lions. This idea caught the eye of many influential citizens, along with the Lion's owner, William Clay Ford, and a huge meeting took place as the idea began to take formation. The design of the stadium was taken over by a noted architectural firm and Don went to work for them. Later, with no experience whatsoever, he started the paper.

My first story for Don's paper was in covering the groundbreaking ceremony for the Silverdome, followed by a cocktail party at a restaurant called Kingsley's Inn, hosted by William Clay Ford. Our host didn't stay at the party long, just ducked in and ducked out and I couldn't find it in my heart to blame him, since it was rather dull. One of those balancing a cocktail while nibbling a cracker affairs, and I hate them.

So the Silverdome bloomed like a giant mushroom, its silver gray roof gleaming in the sun, its frequently empty area a drain on the taxpayers of the city, as they had feared. But it was started with joy and good faith, hopeful of a prosperous future, 80,000 seats waiting to be filled with screaming fans. They stayed home in droves.

Oh, there were some good times. It was there that Elvis split his pants. It is there that the Rolling Stones chased the Press outside. It was there that Michael Jackson, looking like a skinny little wisp, attracted a Standing Room Only crowd. But, you see, that was the trouble! There was the rub! Barring a winning team with loyal minions willing to pay the price to see them, there are so few Superstars capable of filling 80,000 seats.

As brightly as the Silverdome bloomed, as dismally did it fail. Today, it's future is uncertain. It sits on prime land and may someday be torn down and the land used for other purposes. But I will never forget its heyday.

How can I explain the hectic, frenetic and utterly enchanting atmosphere of that small newspaper! We worked hard. We covered events and competed with much larger papers and sometimes, just sometimes, we did it better. Don was probably the world's worst boss, or perhaps its best, depending upon your outlook. He would show up at ten or eleven, then go down to a restaurant for breakfast, which extended into lunchtime. Sometimes his workers joined him and we sat there gossiping and brainstorming. It was there, over coffee, that we hatched our brightest ideas. We had no rules, no routine, no boss staring over our shoulder to make sure we gave him eight full hours. Sometimes we worked fourteen hours daily. Sometimes we would work two hours and disappear for the day.

There was only one hitch in this paradise...the lack of juicy, edible apples! That is supposed to be a joke, but it is true. Paychecks were hard to come by. If you were lucky enough to get one, you had to hurry downstairs to the bank before someone else beat you to it and withdrew all the funds, leaving you with a bounced check.

Thanks to my husband's salary, I could have more patience with collecting a paycheck than many of the youngsters working there. The place became a revolving door, with new people coming and going every few weeks. Most of them were owed money. A few of them took their complaints to authorities. L. Brooks Patterson was Prosecuting Attorney at that time and what a delight he was, young, snappy, intelligent, efficient. But unfortunately, he handled a matter concerning a back pay for an ex-employee and he and Don became bitter enemies.

Despite the money troubles, a core of employees stayed on, myself among them. By this time, we had invested so much emotionally into the paper that we couldn't seem to leave it, even though we probably should have.

But it was fun. Such fun. I will tell many stories covered during those newspaper years on this Blog and share some laughter. I will tell you how and why my husband was named as the top "scofflaw" in the city even though he had never set foot in the place. I will tell you about the Rolling Stones (I have already), Elvis, Michael Jackson, and the prostitute on the corner who loved me.

As the paper grew, Don's health deteriorated. I think he ate himself to death. I cannot describe the size of his appetite, the lust with which he shoveled unhealthy foods into his mouth, his sedentary lifestyle, his habit of kicking off his shoes and meeting executives dressed in a suit and tie and completely bare feet. He was a paradox and a puzzle, a gentle man who would fight over a T-Shirt that said "Fuck You!", threatening to pitch its wearer outside and frequently doing so, a man whose loyalty never wavered if he liked you, and whom I miss to this day, even though he has been gone so many years.

One thing about growing old is the fact that short term memory fails you. You cannot remember what you did yesterday. But the memories of yesterday seem bright and clear, as though they took place an hour ago. Maybe this is a good thing. Maybe when you come down to it, memories are the most precious things we have.

Before Don's health collapsed and the newspaper collapsed with him, he decided to print the name of a woman claiming to have been raped. It wasn't fair, he thought, that the man's name had been published as an accused rapist, while the woman's name remained anonymous. So, with the help of insiders, he discovered her name and printed it. Then he fled to Florida, to die there, as law enforcement officials searched for him.

I'm not saying it was right. Usually, I am a feminist by nature but, as the mother of sons, I firmly believe that neither the raped or the accused rapist should be named until a conviction is upheld. Why should either reputation be ruined because of newspaper or television exposure? But, however one feels, I use the incident to point out that, up to the end, C. Don Davidson was controversial. He did not follow the trends. If he didn't agree, he said so, and loudly.

One day, in a restaurant, we were joined by an Evangelical who spent the next two hours trying to convert us, praying over us, quoting Scripture, moaning about the sorry, immoral state of the spoiled "Feel Good" generation. After this man had left, Don turned to me and said, "You know, Herma, what would we do if one of those egotistical bullies ever takes over the leadership of this country?"

I don't know, Don, and I wish you were here to advise me.